By Deacon Benjamin Tucci
Fellowship Kidz events are for children ages five through 10, using their parents, older youth, young adults, family, and friends as volunteers to help everyone connect to ` life of the parish. In this busy world, it is very difficult to create ministry moments for people to bond together in a spirit of Christian fellowship and joy. These activities can include fun indoor/outdoor games, Bible/Orthodox trivia, service projects, food, and fun.
At St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis, we implemented these activities about four years ago for a variety of reasons:
- We had no activities for this particular age group.
- We wanted to actively engage the parents of this group as volunteers so that they could connect to the life of the parish and help develop future youth leaders.
- We had a FOCA Jr. Chapter (the St. Mary’s Saints) for sixth through twelfth graders that needed more volunteer support and capable advisors for the future with no one stepping forward. The future looked a bit dismal.
- We had problems getting the pre-teens and teens to connect with each other and to the church. We had been relying on the Church School program to keep them involved. The idea was to teach them the faith so that they could weather the storms of life and remain active participants in the parish. The problem is that there were too many things competing for their timesports, other activities, many friends outside the parish. Their lives seemed just too busy to be involved.
The simple fact is that if you do not find ways to get your young children interested in the church, they will find interesting things to do elsewhere. School and extracurricular activities are the number one priority for them. If your church waits to have retreats and camps for pre-teens and teens, it may not be so successful, and may actually be too late. Start sowing seeds earlier by doing Fellowship Kidz events and you will see more success among your pre-teens and teens, leading to their active commitment to the life of the church. Now that we have implemented the Fellowship Kidz events, we have more volunteers to work with among the adults and young adults. It has done wonders to revitalize our youth ministry efforts.
How to start a Fellowship Kidz group
You may have many questions about how to start a Fellowship Kidz group. The idea is to keep it as simple as possible. You will need to find a coordinator. The parish priest is usually far too busy to coordinate these events. The coordinator’s task is to keep a calendar, arrange volunteer help and support, brainstorm ideas with parents and others, and make sure that all event particulars are in place.
In order to begin a Fellowship Kidz event, the coordinator needs to do the following:
- Gather email addresses, phone numbers and home addresses of all the families in the parish who have children that are in Kindergarten through Fifth grades.
- Have a brainstorming session with the parents of this group. I would suggest doing this on a Sunday following the Divine Liturgy.
- Create a vision statement for this group. What do they want the group to accomplish? Do they want the parents to be involved as volunteers? Do they want events just for the children of this age group?
- Ask what they would like to do as a group? Create a list. Keep ideas flowing.
- Once you have your list, pick two or three of the best and easiest activities.
- Set a calendar of events.
- For your first event, recruit volunteers. This is one of the hardest tasks as it will require a bit of knowing who is good at doing what. At St. Mary’s, we scan the crowd at coffee hour and personally ask people to help us. We give them specific and targeted information of what we need them to do. If you ask, “Can you be in charge of the food for our Fellowship Kidz event?” the request might be too overwhelming. However, if you ask someone to purchase the food and you have someone else prepare and serve it, you might get a better response. At some of our larger events, our coordinator makes sure that there are one or two people doing the food preparation and serving, a crafts person, an activity person who is responsible for coming up with a fun physical activity with the group, a priest or teacher to lead the religious based activity, and a few to help clean up after the event.
Advantages to having Fellowship Kidz
There are so many advantages to having the Fellowship Kidz activities. The kids have fun and the parents unknowingly are in training to be future leaders of youth ministry. At St. Mary’s, our parents bonded at these events and are now going places together and doing things together as families outside of the Fellowship Kidz activities. It was a great place for them to break the ice and get to know one another.
Consistency is the key! If you have Fellowship Kidz events, make sure you have these events on a regular basis. If you plan to have them once a month, for example, make sure it is always on the second Tuesday of the month at 6 pm. In this way, families will get into the habit of coming on that particular day and won’t even need to be reminded to come, as they would have established a healthy habit.
You can also choose a theme each month. Arrange all of your crafts, games, food, and fun around that theme. Themes help you stay focused and are essential in the advertising of the event. The theme does not necessarily need to be of a religious nature. You can have bug parities, cowpoke hoedowns, PJ parties, and indoor winter beach parties. The idea is to add elements of fellowship, education, worship and service. At your beach party, for example, the kids can make cards for parish shut-ins out of colorful sand, glue, and construction paper. It’s easy and simple. Keep it that way as often as you can.
Example Fellowship Kidz Event From Start to Finish
Winter Carnival 2007
(This event happened in February. It was very successful and fun.)
6 pmPrayer in the Chapel
6:30 pmDinner Rosemary Garlic Chicken Legs Bread and Butter Salad Dessert
(We do not always have a dinner planned for the Fellowship Kidz events. For simplicity, try having a snack instead. One of my all-time favorites is when we had the kids make up their own trail mix. We purchased six to ten trail mix ingredientsenough for the group. These could include raisins, dried fruits, and small candies like M&Ms or corn candies. We have children with peanut allergies so we stay away from them. The kids are each given a sandwich size snack bag to fill up, using a spoonful of their favorites.)
6:45 pmCrafts… Finger painting, beads, rainbow sketch
7 pm to 7:20 pmGame: “Capture the Animals” (so they don’t freeze)
Rules of the Game: Divide into two teams. 1) Team Snowmen 2) Team Snowflakes Each team chooses or creates a song they can all sing. Two team members are chosen and given a stuffed animal to hide. A Team Snowman hides the animal on the lower level of the building. A Team Snowflake hides the animal on the upper level of the building.
Holding hands, each team has to sing their song and look for the animal, find it, and bring it back to the dining room. The first team back wins a ribbon. The whole team has to be in the dining room, singing their song to win. Rules: No running. Watch out for each other. A lot of fun.
7:20 to 7:40Religion with Fr. Andrew
7:40 to 8 pmWinter WonderlandDress Up and Play Time
For the Winter Carnival the kids dressed up in costumes and had a parade for their parents. The ensemble consisted of a King and Queen (the oldest girl and guy) who were crowned, two princes with sword, two princesses, 1 court jester, 2 fairy princesses with wings, three or four knights.
As You Get Started
Don’t be surprised if you have many pitfalls and setbacks along the way. If you decide to take up the initiative, an important thing to remember is that the devil does not want these healthy activities to happen. He will do whatever to stop you. As a coordinator, you need to know that what you are doing is a ministry. Keep going, keep trying, and keep enduring the attacks from people and life situations.
At my initial brainstorming session, there were two people that attended. This was horribly discouraging. However, the three of us worked up an entire schedule of events. We recruited other volunteers and have had many successful activities. It might also happen that at your first event, few children will show up. Work with the few that do come. If it’s fun, there soon will be more. Try to get more and more people involved in serving this ministry. May God bless your efforts.
For more ideas on how to get Fellowship Kidz going in your parish, for more favorite craft and snack recipes such as making your own"yuk”, “ooze”, kool aid playdough, and ice cream, contact Deacon Benjamin Tucci. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at: (612) 599-1125.
Deacon Benjamin Tucci is the Youth Coordinator for St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN.